Google Beckons Regulatory Scrutiny with WiFi Snafu

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-05-16 Print this article Print

Eustace said the Street View cars "will typically have collected only fragments of payload data because our cars are on the move; someone would need to be using the network as a car passed by; and our in-car WiFi equipment automatically changes channels roughly five times a second."

He also said Google will review its procedures to "address these kinds of problems in the future."

However, future problems coming on the heels of this Street View fiasco, which follows the Google Buzz privacy debacle that exposed users' contacts online, could be disastrous for the company.

The Street View problem may be the killing shot government regulators require to advance a case that Google has violated consumer rights. Regulators could argue that given how much data Google collects, the Street View gaffe is proof that it lacks the necessary safeguards to preserve user privacy. Regulators could then sanction Google, imposing controls over how much data the company collects and how it is used.

Regulators in Europe were angry with Google, according to the New York Times.

Ilse Aigner, the German federal minister for food, agriculture and consumer protection, told the Times "it appears that Google has illegally tapped into private networks in violation of German law."

Privacy watchdogs such as Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson did not miss the opportunity.

"Once again Google has demonstrated a lack of concern for privacy," Simpson said May 14 in a statement sent to eWEEK. "Its computer engineers run amok, push the envelope and gather whatever data they can until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar. Then a Google executive apologizes, mouthing bafflegab about how privacy matters to the company."

Simpson called for the Justice Department or the Federal Communications Commission to examine the Google case in the United States, and argued that the government must regulate the data all Internet companies store.

Privacy leaders in several countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, France, China and Switzerland, have objected to Google Street View in the past. The Swiss federal data protection commissioner sued Google in November 2009 to demand that all faces and car plates be blurred and that Google erase images of walled gardens and private streets.

The European Union in February called for Google to provide advance notice when its Street View vehicles are roving European streets to take pictures and asked that these images be deleted after six months.


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